Subsurface drain trenches are important pathways for water movement from the field surface to subsurface drains in low permeability clayey soils. The hydrological effects of trenches installed with well conducting backfill material and gravel inlet patches are difficult to study with only experimental methods. Computational three-dimensional soil water models provide additional tools to assess spatial processes of such drainage system. The objective was to simulate water flow pathways with 3-D FLUSH model in drain spacing and trench depth scale with two model configurations: (1) the total pore space of soil was treated as a single continuous pore system and (2) the total pore space was divided into mobile soil matrix and macropore systems. Both model configurations were parameterized almost solely with field data without calibration. Data on soil hydraulic properties and drain discharge measurements were available from a clayey subsurface drained agricultural field in southern Finland. The effect of soil hydraulic variability on water flow pathways was assessed by generating computational grids in which the hydraulic properties were sampled randomly from five measured soil sets. Both model configurations were suitable to describe the recorded drain discharge, when model was parameterized in finer scale than drain spacing and the parameterization described highly conductive subdomains such as macropores in a dual-permeability model or the trench in a single pore system model. Models produced similar hourly discharge and water balance results with randomly sampled soil hydraulic properties. The results provide a new view on consequences of soil heterogeneity on subsurface drainage. The practical implication of the results from different drainage scenarios is that gravel trench appears to be important only in soils with a poorly conductive subsoil layers without direct macropore connections to subsurface drains. Solely drain discharge data was not sufficient to determine the differences in water flow pathways between the two model configurations and more output variables, such as groundwater level, should be taken into account in making assessments on the effects of different drainage practices on field drainage capacity.
- 3-D modelling
- Preferential flow
- Supplementary drain installation